What I Did On My Summer Vacation

A long time ago, I used to be a high school teacher which meant I got summers off. Of course, I never REALLY got the summer off—I was either taking courses, getting ready for the new year, or for the last few years before I switched jobs, I was a Summer School principal (you can search “Summer School Stories” if you want to know more). Now that I work for the secret agency, I get 21 days for the entire year, plus statutory holidays. These days are like gold, and I try to ration well because they have to see me through from January to Christmas. I took a few random days at the beginning of the year. And this past week, I took 5 days in a row. That is the extent of my summer holiday right now because I thought I needed to bank the rest for later. I had set another five aside for a cruise in December, but then everything went to sh*t and we had to cancel it—who wants to be on a floating can of plague? Maybe there’ll be a cure soon though, and then I might need them, so better to be safe than sorry. Anyway, I had five days right now and needed to be as productive as possible. Here’s what I accomplished:

1) I taught my puppy to stop biting me

He’s a fantastic little guy, except for one thing. He was biting ALL the time. My arms looked like a war zone—I couldn’t sit down on the couch for five seconds before he was jumping all over me and chewing the sh*t out of me. We tried several tacks, based on what I read on the internet:

Me (squeals very loudly): ‘OW!’
Atlas: You’re a terrible actress. We both know I didn’t bite you that hard. (Bites me again).

Me: Gentle. Be gentle. BE GENTLE.
Atlas: I have no frame of reference for that. (Bites me again).

Me: Here! Chew on Teddy instead!
Atlas: Teddy tastes like sawdust. On the other hand—on both your other hands–you’re delicious.

Finally, I’d had enough. I said to Ken, “None of this crap is working. From now on, if he bites, I say “No” and walk away. If he’s good, he gets a cookie.” See, I’d forgotten that he was a Lab and that the sole motivation for the breed is food. So on Monday, I sat down on the couch with a jar of little treats. Every time he got nippy, I said “No” and took my hand away. When he was calm, I gave him a little piece of his kibble and praised him.

Me: You’re a very nice boy.
Atlas: I AM a nice boy. And this food tastes even better when you handfeed me.

It took two afternoons of focused training, and he hasn’t bitten me since then. As long as I keep dog food in my pocket, I’m golden.

2) I wrote three and a half chapters of my new novel

I’ve been working on a new project for a little while, and at the beginning of July, I sent the first ten chapters to my current publisher to see if they had any interest in it. They do, and now I have a mid-August deadline to get the bulk of it complete. According to my plan, it will top out around nineteen chapters, which means about five and a half to go. Good job I still have some vacation days left. The new book is called The Seventh Devil. Here’s the synopsis:

“20-year-old Verity Darkwood and her mentor Gareth Winter travel across Canada in an old pickup truck and fifth-wheel trailer, exorcising ghosts and demons for people who’ve answered their ad in The Echo: A Journal for Lovers of the Macabre, edited by the eccentric Horace Greeley III. All the while Verity continues the search for her younger sister Harmony, who disappeared when Verity was 14. As she gets closer to discovering what happened to her sister, she and Gareth cross paths with the mysterious and dangerous John Berith. A confrontation becomes inevitable if Verity ever hopes to see Harmony again.”

I’m excited about it. If you have any good book cover ideas, let me know.

3) I watched Ken work on the gazebo

He finally finished the roof, and started working on the railings, benches, and stand-up bar this week. I now have the most ostentatious mansion for my blow-up hot tub possible. You’d expect something with this much architectural splendor to house the Statue of David or something, but no, it’s just a large vinyl container of hot water. Still, it’s glorious.

4) I went clothes shopping for the first time since March

My office in the city is right across the street from the best Winners store in Canada. I was over there at least once a week, because they always have fantastic clothes, a great clearance section, and it’s the only place I can buy the good vegetable spice. This spice is made by Gourmet Kitchen, and during the worst of the plague, I tried to order it from Amazon. I normally pay 6.99 for a jar at Winners; Amazon wanted thirty-five dollars US, which is around fifty Canadian. My potatoes would have to roast naked for that price. But there’s also a Winners about 20 minutes away from my house. It’s not at the same level as the downtown store, but still…And not only was I able to get the good spice, I bought three tops. Obviously, I don’t need to buy pants until I’m working in an office again instead of doing virtual meetings where people can only see me from the shoulders up.

5) I discovered that we get a channel called A&E. A long time ago, this channel used to show almost exclusively BBC series and documentaries. Now, it’s like the National Enquirer. On Mondays, you can watch marathons of Hoarders, which is the most insane show on the planet. On every episode, one of the psychologists says, “This is the worst hoard I’ve ever seen” but the next episode is ALWAYS WORSE, like the old man who slept in a tiny nest of garbage in his living room surrounded by mountains of more garbage, or the woman who had 117 cats—43 of them were alive and the rest were in her refrigerator. One episode had a guy who had stacks and stacks of magazines in one room, which hit close to home:

Me: See that? It reminds me of your office. You’d totally be a hoarder if it wasn’t for me refusing to let you keep crap like that.
Ken: Says the woman who has 27 clocks that don’t work and 12 seashell jewelry boxes with NOTHING IN THEM.

On Friday nights, you can also binge watch a weird show called Storage Wars. The premise is simple—we follow a group of *ssholes as they try to outbid each other on storage units so that they can make a profit on the junk inside. And they really are *ssholes, whose sole motivation is to screw each other over. Every episode, at least one of them says, “I don’t want this unit but I’m going to bid on it anyway to drive the price up so that Barry has to pay more than it’s worth.” None of the people on this show have anything likable about them, and I don’t understand why I watched 6 episodes on Friday night.  Oh well—I’m on my holidays.

I’m Ready For My Close-Up

On Monday, I received a FaceTime call. The only person who normally tries to call me on Facetime is my 6-year-old niece, Cecile, so I answered, thinking that a lovely exploration of the topics of Minecraft or slime would ensue. She’s a remarkably blithe conversationalist; for example:

Me: So what would you like for your birthday?
C: I’m not sure. I like the Galaxy, stuffies, and my favourite colour is blue.
Me: What’s ‘the Galaxy’? Is it a game?
C (laughs): No, Aunt Suzanne. It’s like the stars and stuff.
Me: So would you like a telescope?
C: Actually, a telescope would be great. My cousin Gio has one, but we literally never go over there.

Telescope it is. But the Facetime call wasn’t from Cecile, who has picked up a lot of her vocabulary from watching Youtube videos of Jojo Siwa. No, the call was from Jamaica, but I didn’t realized that until I answered, and saw an older woman who looked at me blankly. “Sorry,” I said. “I think you have the wrong number.” She seemed a little confused and put out, but apologized and hung up. Then I looked at the name and realized that it was Shane’s mom. If you don’t remember “Blayz For Dayz Shane” from previous posts, you can look him up–start here if you’d like. I was worried, of course, that she might be upset with me over that whole forklift situation from a couple of weeks ago—had I ruined yet another of Shane’s chances at honest work? (the first time was the warehouse heist from last year, and I still regret not being given the opportunity to go all in on an Oceans 8 type scenario). At any rate, there were no further repercussions, and I comforted myself that at least I looked good, her having caught me early enough in the evening (6-ish) that I was still wearing make-up and normal human clothes.

The very next day, it was well after 6, and I had lounged in a nice hot bath, washed my face, slathered it with night cream, and put on some cozy PJs, when an alert on my phone went off. I looked at it and gasped. It was a reminder that in 15 minutes, I was due to attend my good friend Susan Richardson’s book launch and poetry reading. It’s an amazing collection of poetry, and her first published compilation, and I was so excited for her when I was invited that I immediately put the evening’s festivities in my calendar. And then I immediately forgot what day it was. Which is why I put stuff in my calendar in the first place—I have a memory like a sieve when it comes to important events, as Ken will tell you:

Ken: Happy Anniversary!
Me: Whuh?
Ken: It’s our 30th anniversary. Today.
Me: I KNOW that. Here. I bought you a puppy.
Atlas: Put me down. Why do I feel like I’m an afterthought?
Me: I have a JibJab card for you. Just give me a few minutes to “find” the link.

Anyway, the alert on my phone went off and, as I said, I gasped. What was I going to do? I looked in the mirror at my greasy face and comfy PJs. This would not do. I was not going to appear at an important event looking like something the cat dragged in. So I wiped off the night cream, got out the make-up kit, and carefully reapplied the make-up I’d removed literally ten minutes before, and when I say ‘carefully’, I mean as carefully as I could given the clock counting down. I finished, threw on a fancy top (keeping on the PJ bottoms because no one would be able to see my pants), and sat down in front of the computer, just in the nick of time. And there was lovely Susan. She was glowing, and I’m assuming it was for a different reason than me (a combination of wine and running down the stairs to get to the computer). She smiled and said, “Hi!”

“HI!” I said back enthusiastically, and waved. I couldn’t see anyone else in the meeting yet, so I said, “How are you? You must be so exci—” and she launched into an introduction and then started reading the first poem. I assumed that my camera and mike were off, and I was worried she wouldn’t know I was there, so I looked and realized that there were no icons. NONE. And I discovered something new that day—Facebook Live Video is a one-way street. All my efforts were for naught—no one could see me and no one would have cared if I’d arrived naked, let alone with a bare face. But there was a chat function, so I was able to congratulate her and applaud her wonderful reading. And I looked good doing it:

Ken: Did you make it on time?
Me: Apparently, on Facebook Live, no one can see or hear you.
Ken: Well, you look pretty.
Me: Aw. Happy Anniversary.
Ken: That was last week.

If you want to see Susan reading poetry from her collection Things My Mother Left Behind, you can go here. In other news, here are some things that my puppy barks at:

The toilet
A piece of celery
The spray bottle that sprays him for getting too bitey (we call it Mr. Spray Bottle and he hates it with a passion. If I say, “Uh oh, time for Mr. Spray bottle”, he loses his sh*t. It’s hilarious.)
My daughter, because she changed her outfit
His reflection in the window
My reflection in the window
Ken’s reflection in the window
A bird. It was flying overhead
The ball he was playing with the day before
The rake
The broom
The hoe
My mom, because she got her hair cut
My dad, because he didn’t
The stairs (he’s at the age where we expect him to at least try to go up and down on his own, but he wants to be carried)
The hot tub, especially when we turn the dreaded bubbles on

He’s barky but adorable.

Detective Duos I’d Love to Watch

On Tuesday night, I was bored and there was nothing good on TV, so I decided to watch a rerun of a show whose title had intrigued me for a long time: “Houdini and Doyle.” From what I understood, it was about a detective duo at the turn of the century, and I love detective shows. One of my all time favourites is the updated version of Sherlock Holmes called Elementary, starring the irascible Johnny Lee Miller, and Lucy Liu as Watson. I also adore Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC version of Sherlock, which I’ve rewatched several times on Netflix, so I thought I’d give Houdini and Doyle a whirl. All I knew is that Harry Houdini was a Hungarian-American magician, and that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the Scottish author of the Sherlock Holmes series, among other things. I love magic and I love Scottish fiction writers (albeit a very small group) and I had high hopes for its ability to keep me happily occupied for the next hour while Atlas slept. Unfortunately, the TV show was—and I’m being polite here—absolute sh*t. Here are my main complaints:

  • The plot was ridiculous. This episode took place in a town where everyone except the local doctor and a little girl suddenly died. People were just lying on the streets in their period costumes, or keeled over their dinners of mutton and ale. Even the dogs were dead. And so were the mice—I know this because Houdini pointed out a nest of dead mice under a porch in a very obvious way in order to prove—well, I’m not actually sure what he was trying to prove. Houdini and Doyle eventually decided that everyone died due to a large cloud of carbon dioxide which had escaped from a nearby mine and which had asphyxiated the entire town. And as convoluted as that all sounds, it wasn’t even the ridiculous part. The most illogical part of the whole thing was their explanation regarding the survival of the doctor and the little girl. I was hoping beyond hope that since the show revolved around a famous magician that there might actually be a supernatural or magic-y rationale, like they were both alien mutants with cosmic lung capacity, or immune to the biological weapon that the government was experimenting with or something cool, but no. The doctor was in bed having a nap, and the little girl was sick and was also in bed. Therefore, they were BELOW the gas cloud and escaped its nefarious and deadly clutches. At which point, I yelled at the TV, “WHAT ABOUT THE DEAD MICE UNDER THE PORCH?! ? WHAT ABOUT THE DOGS? ARE YOU SERIOUSLY TELLING ME THAT ALL THE DEAD DOGS WERE TALLER THAN THAT KID’S BED?!” Yep, it made no sense whatsoever.
  • It made even less sense later, when having “solved” the first mystery, Houdini and Doyle then prevented the assassination of the President of the United States at a hotel because they had found a note with the words “King Edward” on it, and after thinking it was about killing the King, they realized it was the name of a hotel and got there just in time. All in one episode of 45 minutes (not counting all the commercials).
  • There were no magic tricks AT ALL. Considering the show stars one of the most famous American magicians of all time, there was a surprising LACK of magic-type stuff. Not even a f*cking card trick. They should have had Houdini in a locked closet, tied up with padlocked chains, racing against time to escape and thwart the assassination. Instead, he just knocked the gun out of the guy’s hand. Boring.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was Scottish, yet he spoke with an English accent. Yes, they sound different. The English always sound like they’re trying to schmooze you, and the Scottish always sound like they’re mad at you, thusly:
    English: Darling, can you please be quiet?
    Scottish: HAUD YER WEESHT, CHEEKY WEE BISSOM!!
    But Doyle was always like “Good Heavens! What the devil happened here, my good man?” instead of “Whit? Awae wi’ ye, numptie!” Yes, I know that the actual Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was well-educated and spoke the “Queen’s English”, but it would have added something to the show if he’d used spicy phrases and unintelligible dialect. The plot didn’t make any sense, so why should the dialogue?
  • Houdini sounded Canadian and the whole show had a distinctly Canadian feel ie: it was kind of amateur-ish, like Murdoch Mysteries, where a Canadian detective in the 1890s “uses radical forensic techniques of the time, including fingerprints and trace evidence, to solve gruesome murders” (imdb) along with his partner, female coroner Dr. Julie Ogden . An episode was once filmed in the town next to mine—we were at Wine Bayou bottling wine, and when my mom found out, she ran out on us mid-cork just for a glimpse of Yannick Bisson, who plays Murdoch. I’ve never seen her move so fast. Anyway, I wasn’t sure WHY I felt like it was so Canadian, then I googled it, and it turns out that the show “has Canadian producers and comes from the same production company as Murdoch Mysteries.” Mystery solved.
  • Last, throughout the show, Houdini kept insisting that you always know when you’re dreaming because “You can’t read in your dreams.” This is patently untrue. Just last night, I was reading Facebook posts in my dreams and some of them were just as annoying as they are when I’m awake—I don’t give “amens” to anything, and NO, I will not copy and paste your anti-mask rant regardless of my state of consciousness. But the kitten videos were a-DOR-able.

Anyway, in keeping with the current trend of unrealistic detective duos, like Murdoch and his Victorian female coroner partner, or Houdini and Doyle, I came up with a couple of my own.

1) “What The Dickens!”: This show stars Charles Dickens and David Copperfield, played respectively by Gerard Butler and Shia LeBoeuf. Because why the hell not? In the show, Dickens has time-travelled to the future and meets American magician David Copperfield. Together, they investigate the disappearance of many large buildings and monuments, and battle their arch-nemesis Uriah Heep, played by Betty White, who is as immortal as any supervillain. After they’ve solved every mystery (turns out it was Copperfield all along), Dickens returns to his own time and writes a very long novel called “David Copperfield” where he makes a LOT of stuff up, (he got paid by the word, after all) but leaves out the detective/magic part because he doesn’t want his heirs to get sued by Copperfield in the future for revealing his magical techniques.

2) “Fitzgerald and Wife”: In keeping with the fine tradition of married couple detectives, this show stars F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Every week, they are presented with a new mystery which they fail to solve because they are too drunk.

3) “Robbie and Doug”: This is a Canadian show starring famous author Robertson Davies, who almost won a Nobel prize, and Doug Henning, a Canadian magician who ran for Parliament as a candidate for the Natural Law Party, which believes that all the problems in the world can be solved by learning the art of “yogic flying”. In the show, Davies just grumbles a lot about everything because he’s 90 years old and Scottish, and Henning solves all the crimes by flying around and meditating. The show is cancelled when viewers discovered that Henning isn’t REALLY flying—it’s only special effects. Yogic flying is actually just bouncing in a lotus position, and everyone knows you can’t solve crimes by bouncing.

As a side note, I know that neither F. Scott or Zelda were magicians, but I liked the concept too much to leave it out on THAT technicality. Also Ken just read this, and got really huffy:

Ken: I can’t believe you criticized Murdoch Mysteries.
Me: I didn’t criticize it.
Ken: You called it poorly made and amateurish.
Me: That was a generalization. ALL Canadian shows are poorly made and amateurish.
Ken: The BBC is just as bad.
Me: What are you talking about? The BBC is awesome!
Ken: Next time you’re watching Masterpiece Theatre, pay close attention to the terrible production values!
Me: OK, Ken.

Ken and I would make a great detective duo:

Me: Ken. The puppy just threw up.
Ken: It’s 4 o’clock in the morning…what does it look like?
Me: Pretty solid. Doesn’t look like food. Kind of stringy.
Ken: Stringy…string…rope. Ah ha! He swallowed that little chew rope he was playing with earlier.
Me: I don’t see it around here anywhere. Good deduction.
Atlas: Better out than in.

In other news, I was recently interviewed by Jenna Neece, writer and editor. If you’d like to learn more about The Mystery of Mydangblog, you can read it here

Forklift Fantasies, Atlas is Invincible

I really thought that a golden opportunity had knocked on my door the other day. I was sitting at my work computer reviewing some secret agency documents when my text alert sounded. I get very few text messages—in fact, the only person who texts me regularly is the comedian Jim Gaffigan. Somehow, I got on a list to receive texts from him, and while I’m sure he’s a very nice man, I wish I wasn’t on his list, because he texts me at least twice a day. I’ve written in the past that I have a very sensitive startle response, so every time the notification goes off, I just about jump out of my chair, only to discover that it’s yet ANOTHER clip of Jim doing stand-up or Jim forcing one of his many children to eat liverwurst. Random? You bet. I suppose I could text him back with “New phone, who dis?” but I don’t think he reads any of the replies, at least not any that I’ve already sent. Plus, I don’t want to hurt his feelings because what if I’m the only person who hasn’t dropped him by now, and then he’s like “Not you too, Mydangblog! I thought we really had something special! Oh, WHAT’S THE POINT?” and then he never does stand-up again and it’s all my fault? You know who’s a GOOD celebrity to have on text? Jeff Goldblum. He texted me once and I’ve never heard from him again, but he’s in my contact list so I can show people and be a little braggy without having to suffer through clips of him in The Fly or whatnot.

Anyway, my text notification went off, so I sighed and braced myself for Jim but it wasn’t him. It was potentially a dream come true. You may remember that I have waxed poetic on a number of occasions about driving a forklift. And why WOULDN’T I want to drive one? A forklift is like a golf cart with arms, and you should all know by now that the only reason I have EVER golfed is so I can drive the golf cart, and a forklift is just one step better. It’s like being a human transformer. If you’ve ever seen that Alien movie where Sigourney Weaver wears the forklift suit, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The only thing more badass than a forklift suit is in the final installment of The Matrix where Captain Mifune wears the human machine gun suit. They call it an Armoured Personnel Unit, but if it was me, I’d just be yelling “Get me my damned human machine gun suit—Player One’s got a dock to defend!!”

And what did this magical text message say? It said, “Urgent Requirements! Forklift Operators needed! Long hours and long term possible. Text TPI!” and there was a number to text back. Also, UNLIKE Jim, there was also the sentence “Text STOP to opt out”, but in this case, I would NEVER want to opt out. I was momentarily thrilled and was about to text back, “Yes! A resounding yes!” when I read it again. Long hours? Long term possible? That didn’t sound like much fun to me. I mean, 45 minutes would be good—that would give me a chance to tool around the neighbourhood, go to the park and rearrange some picnic tables, you know, the normal sh*t you do with a forklift (in this scenario, I’m obviously wearing a cape and a Spanish Inquisitor hat because no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, particularly on a forklift). But anything longer than that might become more like a job than a pleasure, and I already have a job. So I texted back, “Ooh, I’ve always wanted to drive a forklift. But I don’t think I could do it for hours, more just like around the block or whatnot. Thanks though!” That was the end of it, and I was a little sad, thinking I would never hear from them again, but about ten minutes later, my text notification went off again. I didn’t look right away, assuming it was Jim talking about manatees AGAIN, but no—it was from the forklift people. The text read, “Thank you!” So now I don’t know if that means they’re considering me and one day this week a forklift might pull into my driveway, but I have my cap and hat ready to go.

In other news, my new puppy is fearless and also has a huge ego:

Atlas: Ma! I will defend this abode from all intruders!
Me: Dude, I think you mean “commode”. You’re barking at the toilet.

Atlas: Watch me harness the power of electricity!
Me: Stop chewing on that electrical cord!

Atlas: Whee, I can fly!
Me: Do NOT try to leap into my arms from the top of the stairs.

Atlas: I have a gourmet palate!
Me: Well, that rug IS an antique.

Atlas: I’m a savage predator!
Me: The garden hose certainly agrees with you.

Atlas: I’m a hat!
Me: You aren’t allowed to sleep on my head!

Atlas: I’m Aquaman, Ma!
Me: Get away from the pond—you’re scaring the fish.

Atlas: I’m a very good boy.
Me: Yes, you are. Especially when you’re asleep.

Creative Wednesdays – Tooth Fairy

It’s almost the end of Wednesday, so this came in just under the wire. I’m thrilled to have another flash fiction story in The Sirens Call eZine. ‘Tooth Fairy’ is a strange little piece about what we’re willing to overlook to keep the things we love. I hope you enjoy my weird story–I can’t link directly to it, but you can read ‘Tooth Fairy’ on page 72 here.